Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Aliae Villae

So, I have lost count of how many Roman villae I have seen since coming ad Italiam just 2 short weeks ago. Villae are country houses. they are usually a pretty good size, and contain many rooms. Most of the rooms are situated around the central atrium, which was open to the air and often had a small pool in the middle to catch rainwater (impluvium). Remember, these were the days before indoor plumbing was big!

Yesterday, we saw the largest villa of all, by far. It was the Domus Aurea, which was built by the emperor Nero. It took up, I believe, four hills in Rome, not to mention the valleys in between. How did he manage this?

Well, in 64 AD, there was a big fire, and much of Rome burned to the ground. It makes sense, since everything was made of wood. Anyway, Nero took the opportunity to buy up a lot of property. The complex, and that's really what it was, contained all sorts of rooms and areas. There was a whole section of the house (domus) that was just for entertaining! Nero was a big partier! And one of the valleys, where the Colosseum now sits, was actually an artificial lake. There was also a large statue of Nero as Apollo the sun god (the colossus) outside the lake. The lake was, apparently, in the midst of a large pastoral area.

Nero had more money than sense. Bless his heart!

Anyway, I got to go into part of the Domus Aurea (Golden House) in the afternoon. I had been there previously, in college, but had not been back since. Evidently part of the ceiling had collapse, so they didn't want anyone to get hurt. I got to wear a hard hat!

In the morning, before the D.A., we went to the Colosseum. Since I was just at the Colosseum last month, it was not quite as exciting as you might expect. I didn't really wander as much as I normally do. But I did see this cool exhibit on Roman Triumphs. Roman generals had a triumph when they won a war. It was like a big parade, kind of like a baseball team winning the World Series or something. There were coins, friezes, frescos, etc. I took lots of pictures, which I will share when the time is right. Like when I get them off the camera.

Today, we saw dead people. Well, not really. We went to the Catacombs of Domatilla. That's where early Christians buried their dead. They are underground, in 4 levels. It was cold down there! I recommend a sweater if you visit. It was pretty neat. There was a painting in a vault which depicted Peter and Paul on either side of Jesus, listening to the story of the dead man, preparing to judge his destination. It was neat. No pictures of this stuff. Most of the graves were empty, as grave robbers had stolen the bodies.

Before that, we had been to the Baths of Caracalla. He was an emperor (wasn't everyone?). He built really big baths. See, in ancient times, not everyone had a bathroom in their house. In fact, it was pretty uncommon. So the Romans had public baths. There was a changing room where you left your clothes. A warm bath (tepidarium). A hot bath (calidarium). A cold bath (frigidarium). There were even places to work up a sweat, like a gym (palaestra). And when I say "bath", it's not like they took soap and scrubbed. The "bath" was more a swimming pool.

When you finished sweating and "bathing", you went to a separate room and got rubbed down with oils and perfumes. Then a slave scraped it all off with a strigil. Not exactly hygenic to us, but it was normal back then.

Anyway, we also saw a large tomb today. And then went out to the Villa of the Quintili. It's pretty big also. These brothers, the Quintili, had done well for themselves. They had a big round room and baths. Right in the house! Unfortunately, they got killed when they got on the emperor's bad side. I can't remember which emperor, or else you'd get another lecture.

Tomorrow, we're going to see some church that has the remains of yet ANOTHER house under it. I have never seen this many houses before! Not even when Hubs and I were house hunting! I hope I don't go crazy after all this.

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